By Thomas Perry, The Daily Press (Timmins)
POWASSAN – Against the Cochrane Crunch, the Timmins Rock made an art of overcoming two-goal deficits, but they have yet to paint a masterpiece against the NOJHL’s regular season champions in the East Division final.
Some fans might even argue they haven’t produced a finger painting worthy of hanging on the fridge two games into their best-of-seven series.
After dropping a 6-2 decision at the Powassan Sportsplex in Game 1 of the series Friday night, the Rock were blanked 4-0 in Game 2 Saturday night at the same location.
And just like Friday night, the Rock found themselves trailing 1-0 before the contest was even two minutes old.
“We were definitely flat,” said Rock assistant coach James Daschuk.
“We didn’t seem prepared. You would figure coming off a big series like we were, we would come out with a little bit more intensity, but we didn’t.
“In the first game, we took a couple of penalties right off the hop, the first couple of shifts. We were down 2-0 right away in that game.
“It was the same thing Saturday night. It’s not that we played bad last night, but we gave up a goal early and that’s deflating for a team. There was still lots of time, but we weren’t generating any shots on net. Through two periods, we had nine shots on net. We hadn’t done that all year.”
Daschuk is not sure why the Rock came out so flat in both games, but he discounted the suggestion the 4-2 series win over the Cochrane Crunch in the East Division semifinal series left them emotionally drained.
“I don’t think it was that, because it wasn’t a question of us having no legs or being tired,” he said.
“We were just making mental mistakes and we couldn’t generate anything. They were just kind of smothering us and we just didn’t seem to have an answer for what they were doing. We knew what they were doing. They were very aggressive on the forecheck and they looked to be more hungry than we were. Every time we thought we had good chance, their goalie (Nate McDonald) would come up with the save he needed to make. It was tough on morale. Guys were getting a little bit frustrated.”
Gary Mantz beat Rock starting goalie Albert Rogers for his fifth goal of the playoffs at the 1:37 mark of the opening frame Saturday night and the Voodoos were airborne.
Shane Beaulieu added his second goal of the playoffs midway through the period and Rogers’ night was done.
The Rock coaches opted to bring on Jeff Veitch in relief following Beaulieu’s goal, but the Voodoos forward added his second of the night and third of the playoffs three-and-a-half minutes later to put Powassan up 3-0.
Neither team was able to find the back of the net in the second period, thanks in part to the strong work of Veitch, as the Voodoos outshot the Rock 20-4.
The Rock came out with a more spirited effort in the third period, outshooting the home side 13-12, but there were not able to get anything past Powassan goalie Nate McDoanld — the NOJHL’s regular-season MVP and top puck stopper.
Mantz finally put the visitors out of their misery with 1:12 remaining on the clock when he deposited a shot into the empty Timmins net for his second of the night and sixth of the playoffs after the Rock had pulled Veitch in favour of an extra attacker.
While the Rock only allowed four goals Saturday night compared to the six they surrendered Friday night, Daschuk is not so sure it was the result of improved defensive play.
“I guess if you consider them not scoring playing better defensively, ya sure,” he said.
“We didn’t play terrible defensively, by any means, so it’s nothing too negative from that aspect, but we still did make mistakes. We still had guys who were just along for the ride. We definitely had some passengers in both games and you are not going to beat a team like Powassan with one line going or only three defencemen playing up to their capabilities.
“Against Cochrane, it seemed like we were playing more of a team game. At any point of the game, you could throw on any line and there would be potential for a goal or a good scoring chance. This weekend we didn’t have that luxury. Some guys were kind of going through the motions.
“Powassan seems to finish every check and we weren’t able to compete with them this weekend. They have balance and they have a lot of depth. Any line they put out can potentially score for them. We wanted to try and move the puck a little bit quicker, but the passes just weren’t there.”
One Rock player who excelled on the weekend was Veitch, who stopped 48 of the 49 shots he faced in his two relief appearances.
“I was happy for him,” Daschuk said.
“He hadn’t played many games down the stretch and he was sick for a while. We spotted him in there for a period in Iroquois Falls in our last game of the year, trying to get him a little bit of game action.
“He came in on the weekend and played well. That’s what your other goalie is supposed to do, step up when he is needed. He is a big body (6-2, 210 pounds) and there was nothing fancy, by any means. He made the saves and he was in the right spot at the right time. He stayed square to the puck and it looked like he had a lot of confidence back there.”
The Rock assistant coach was also impressed with the play of a couple of the team’s blue-liners Saturday night.
“(Grant) McClellan and (James) Watier made their mistakes the same as everyone else, but when push came to shove, they were definitely two guys who were pushing back,” Daschuk said.
“They pretty much competed for the full three periods in both games. They got rewarded with a little bit more ice time. We were hoping the other guys would feed off of them a little bit. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”
The Rock may have lost the first two games by four goals each, but they are in no worse shape than if each defeat had come in quadruple overtime.
To win the series, the Rock need to take all three of their home games and one game on the road. It does not make any difference if that victory had come in Game 1 or 2, or if it comes in Game 5 or 7.
“It’s not secret what type of home team we are,” Daschuk said.
“We have played great at home all year. The Voodoos do not have any advantage in Game 3 just because they won the first two games of the series. If we can win Tuesday night’s game, then it is a 2-1 series. That would be a pretty good spot to be in, if you ask me, against a pretty good team like Powassan.
“We are not out of this series by any means and our backs are not up against the wall. You are not in trouble until you lose a home game. It is going to be tough, because we still have to beat them four times.”
For Timmins to be successful — on home ice or the road — they will have to get back to playing Rock hockey and put pressure on McDonald.
“I don’t think it’s a secret,” Daschuk said.
“Every team says the same thing. Keep it simple, get lots of shots and go to the net. We know the game plan.
“After losing two games, hopefully the guys are going to realize it’s not going to be easy. They are going to have to go into the tough areas. They are going to get cross-checked. They are going to get punched and all that stuff, but if they want to be a championship team, that’s what you have to do.”
A large crowd of noisy fans could provide the Rock with the edge they need Tuesday night. During the Rock’s three home games against the Crunch, they drew 825, 1,339 and 1,319 fans.
“It is going to be important for us to get that first goal Tuesday night to build our confidence back up and get the crowd into the game,” Daschuk said.
“The support we received in the Cochrane series was just fantastic. That second goal we scored in Game 6, the hair on the back of my neck was just lifting up because the fans were so loud.”
McDonald stopped all 22 shots the Rock fired his way Saturday night to earn the victory for the Voodoos.
Rogers was tagged for the loss after stopping six of the eight shots he faced in the game’s first 10:59. In 49:01 of work, Veitch blocked 35 of the 36 shots fired his way.
Special teams were not so special for the Rock during Friday night’s contest, as they game up three power-play goals and a shorthanded marker to the home side.
The Voodoos struck three times in the first period to take a 3-0 lead.
Ryan Bazzana beat Rogers for his first goal of the playoffs, a power-play marker, 1:21 into the contest after Jacob Shankar had been sent off for hooking just 31 seconds into the game.
Gabriel Rheault added his second goal of the playoffs just over three minutes later to increase the Voodoos’ advantage to 2-0.
Then, Parker Bowman struck for his first of two goals on the night and fourth of the playoffs, with Powassan on the power play and just 40 seconds remaining in the opening frame.
After outshooting the Rock 14-6 in the opening 20 minutes, the Voodoos again enjoyed a territorial advantage in the second period while increasing their lead to 6-0 and outshooting Timmins 19-7.
Bo Peltier’s second goal of the playoffs made it a 4-0 hockey game just 1:35 into the middle frame.
Then, Mantz struck for his fourth goal of the playoffs, with the Voodoos enjoying the man advantage, and then Bowman added his second of the night and fifth of the playoffs, while Powassan was killing a penalty four-and-a-half minutes later.
The Rock coaches opted to replace Rogers with Veith to start the third period and the move provided the visitors with a little momentum.
Stewart Parnell struck for his sixth goal of the playoffs seven-and-a-half minutes into the third period to spoil McDonald’s shutout bid.
Then, two-and-a-half minutes later Cory Sprague beat McDonald for his first goal of the playoffs to close out the scoring and make the final 6-2 in favour of the home side.
McDonald stopped 24 of the 26 shots he faced from the Rock to pick up the win for the Voodoos.
Rogers, who was tagged with the loss, stopped 27 of the 33 shots he faced in the game’s first 40 minutes. In 20 minutes of relief, Veitch turned aside all 13 shots he faced.
NOJHL NOTES — The Rock did not dress Shankar (serving a one-game suspension he picked up for a hit-to-the-head infraction in Game 1 of the series) and fellow forward Cole Gilligan (undisclosed) … The three stars of the game were Beaulieu, McDonald and Veitch … The Rock were 0-5 on the power play, while the Voodoos were 0-6 with the man advantage … Official attendance at the Powassan Sportsplex was 368 … The Beavers hung on to edge the Soo Eagles 2-1 in Game 1 of the West Division final in Blind River Friday night. Game 2 in that series was played Sunday night, but details were not available at press time … Game 3 of the East Division final between the Voodoos and the Rock will be played Tuesday night at the McIntyre Arena. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.